New Questions and Answers

Q. I wrote a novel, and in the story there’s a fictitious newspaper that I made up. The Gazette. Repeat, not a real newspaper. When a friend reviewed the novel, she said I should italicize it, like real newspapers. Should I?

A. Yes, the fake newspaper should be italic. The world you are creating in your novel is supposed to seem real. You don’t want to pull readers out of that world by labeling some items in it fake.

Q. If you make a statement and footnote it to cite a source, does the scope of the source confine your statement? For example, if I said that a particular health program was successful and footnoted the statement to a source that discussed the program in one country or region, does that confine my statement of success to that country/region? I would appreciate some clarification, thank you.

A. A note need not limit what you write in your paper—you can write anything you want. But if you make a statement that is not supported by your note, you will need another note to support the part that lacks evidence. There are exceptions: opinions and common knowledge don’t require support in notes.

Q. I am editing a paper in which the bibliography has a few entries with many coauthors—e.g., over fifty. The author has listed all the names. Surely, when the list of authors goes beyond twenty-five lines—in one case, over a page—I can use et al.? If that’s the case, how many do I list before using et al.? Thanks!

A. If you are using notes-bibliography documentation, please see CMOS 14.76: “For works with more than ten authors—more common in the natural sciences—Chicago recommends the policy followed by the American Naturalist (see bibliog. 5): only the first seven should be listed in the bibliography, followed by et al. (Where space is limited, the policy of the American Medical Association may be followed: up to six authors’ names are listed; if there are more than six, only the first three are listed, followed by et al.).” If you are using author-date documentation, list all the authors (CMOS 15.9).

Q. What is the correct way to punctuate the following sentence: “Let’s face it, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.” Is it correct to use the comma even though “Let’s face it” is an independent clause?

A. Your sentence is an example of a comma splice. Some readers will be distracted by it; some will consider it incorrect; a few will take it as one more sign that civilization is coming to an end. However, as Bryan Garner writes in Garner's Modern American Usage: “Most usage authorities accept comma splices when (1) the clauses are short and closely related, (2) there is no danger of a miscue, and (3) the context is informal.” That said, a dash or colon in place of the comma in your sentence would be uncontroversial.

Q. How do you handle real product names like Head & Shoulders Shampoo or Gorton’s of Gloucester? Do you italicize or put quotes around them, or just write them the way they are used on the product?

A. The way you’ve written them is correct.

Q. We use postdoctoral as one word. Should we then also use postbaccalaureate as one word for consistency, even though spell check wants a hyphen or space? Both are being used as adjectives.

A. Unless your spelling checker follows the same style manual you do, you should feel free to disregard it! Chicago closes up words with the prefix post-, as does Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

Q. How do you determine if it is “In the 1970s bad things happened” or “In the 1970s, bad things happened”? Comma or no comma? Why?

A. You can determine it by consulting a style manual like CMOS. You can go to the table of contents and look for the chapter on punctuation (chapter 6), then scan down the list of topics until you find a section on commas. Within that section you can look for the paragraph that addresses your issue: 6.36, “Commas with introductory adverbial phrases.” There you can read that “an introductory adverbial phrase is often set off by a comma but need not be unless misreading is likely. Shorter adverbial phrases are less likely to merit a comma than longer ones.” You can decide that your phrase does not need to be set off by a comma. Why? Because misreading without the comma is unlikely.

Q. Dear Sir or Madam, I can’t understand the meaning of documentation at 2.54. Documentation consists of notes, bibliographies, or reference lists, I think.

A. You are right, but the word documentation has a more general meaning as well. At 2.54 it is referring to the documents that accompany a manuscript that is going to be published—such as editorial meeting minutes, notes from the author, a file of permissions and credits, the publishing contract, or anything else that might contain information or instructions helpful to the editor.

Q. What is the past tense for text? I use text as in “I text her yesterday, and she text me back.” I read/hear people say texted: “I texted her yesterday, and she texted me back.” Which is more correct?

A. Texted is correct. Adding ed is the standard way to make a verb past tense, so with a new verb like text, that’s the default. With increased usage, a nonstandard past tense could eventually establish itself, but until then, use the standard verb form.

Q. Is the following differentiation for the plural versus singular of century correct?

Explores the relationship between China and the West from the seventeenth through the early twentieth century.

Surveys the architecture of Italy in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries.

A. Yes. When you have a series of centuries joined by and, they are plural. When you have a range of centuries (from/to or from/through), use the singular—from the seventeenth [century] to the twentieth century.

Q. Are terms of endearment capped when used as a form of address, for example, in “Bring me my shoes, Precious” or “Turn off the TV, Darling”? I believe this used to be a rule, but with the trend toward “down” styling, most editors perhaps have thrown it out.

A. Chicago’s preferred style has always been to lowercase pet names, but you can’t go wrong unless you’re inconsistent, since the issue is guided by preference rather than rule. Please see section 8.39 of the 15th edition. (The issue is not addressed in the 16th.)

Q. I enjoy reading the monthly Q&A. The answers often seem to tell the questioners to use some common sense, that there isn’t one right answer necessarily for every situation, and that comprehensibility trumps consistency and being a stickler. Certainly, though, there are times when there is a right answer. Do you have a philosophy or recommendations for how to distinguish those situations from the rest?

A. We’re working on an app for that; meanwhile, you’ll have to trust your judgment.

June Q&A

Q. Dear CMOS Staff, I am citing a periodical. In 1918 it started as a weekly and had a month/day date as well as an issue number. In 1920, the periodical became a quarterly, with a year and issue number (but no date). I am citing one from 1918 and one from 1920. Should I cite the 1918 with the date or be consistent with the 1920 without the date?

A. Give all the information you have. Consistency is counterproductive if it requires hiding information from the reader. If it makes you twitch to have no weekly date for 1920, put “[n.d.]” where the month and day would go.

Q. I received the following comment and would appreciate any feedback on its accuracy. “The word officially is an adverb. In spoken English it often precedes a verb. However, in formal, written English, the adverb should always follow the verb. Hence officially follows the verb announced.”

A. Well, that’s just nonsense! When you receive a comment like that, you should politely ask for the source of the rule. I can promise you, there is no authoritative source for this rule. Although adverb placement can certainly affect meaning and emphasis, and there are conventions and idioms that apply, they cannot be reduced to a rule as simple as the one you cite. (Tip: The word always in an alleged grammar rule is a sure sign that it’s bogus.)

Q. Invariably, when I’m reading historical text, I want to follow a footnote number to its note. In most cases, these are grouped at the end of the book by chapter, each set of notes beginning with 1. I have to go back to the beginning of the chapter to find out what chapter I’m currently reading, then go to the back of the book, find that chapter’s listing of notes, and hunt for my number. The system cries out for a more reader-friendly method.

All notes should be numbered consecutively and then grouped by chapter in the back. This way, I could simply go to the back and look up my note number. And, if I was just interested in that chapter’s notes, they would all be together. It would be a one-step look-up—not the three-step method explained above. Footnote numbers are merely pointers: who really cares how high they go, if they work simply and efficiently?

A. Chicago books normally address the issue in a couple of ways. First, the running head on the left-hand page in the text shows the chapter number; second, the running heads in the notes section consist of “Notes to Pages 000–000.”

It used to be time-consuming to renumber notes if any were added or deleted during editing (which they invariably are). It saved a lot of time and trouble to renumber only one chapter’s notes instead of all the notes to the end of the book. It is still the case that in books where an author refers to note numbers explicitly (“see above, n. 8”; “see below, n. 42”), automatic renumbering does not include such references, leaving errors. (We have yet to receive a MS where the author linked such references electronically.)

Another reason for numbering chapters individually is that chapters are sometimes disseminated (even printed) as separate units, especially in volumes where each chapter is by a different author. In that case, beginning a chapter with a high note number is inelegant and possibly confusing. And in scholarly books like the ones we publish, it’s not unusual to have more than a thousand notes.1,297 (How elegant is that?)1,298

It’s not that there’s never a case for numbering notes straight through; occasionally we do it that way. But it’s a trade-off of conveniences, and for now, we feel that our current system is optimal.

Q. We are currently revising the references of a book chapter and have come across the following problem: Two sources of the same year have the identical first seven authors, and we don’t know how to differentiate them in the text (authors, year). In this case a and b are not applicable, because starting with the eighth author, the authors are not the same. Should we list all eight names in both cases?

A. I’m afraid you’re stuck with naming all the authors:

(Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, and Snow 2008)

(Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, and Queen 2008)

An alternative is to annotate the reference list with something like “In text, referred to as Grumpy et al. [1] 2008.” Putting [1] after the author instead of a after the date indicates that Grumpy et al. [1] and Grumpy et al. [2] are different author groups, whereas 2008a and 2008b indicate different works of the same author group.

Q. I’m writing an essay based upon an early explorer’s daily journal and quote extensively from it—do I need to cite it every single time, or is there a way to just cite it once at the beginning and it will be understood that subsequent quotes are from the same source?

A. Luckily, you have the power to make it understood! For instance, you can write “All references to X’s journal are to this edition.” Citation styles aren’t meant to burden writers and readers with endless busywork. Rather, they’re a tool for conveying information accurately and concisely and consistently. When writing notes and bibliographies, try not to think “Aargh—do I have to follow all these rules?” but “How can I use these tools to support my point?”

Q. I have a disagreement with a coworker about how to alphabetize street names with foreign words in them. I live in San Diego, so there are a lot of Spanish street names. I, for example, would file Via Hacienda under V. She argues that because Via means “street,” it should be under H instead. She reasons that if it were House Street, we would file it under H. My argument is that since we are not speaking Spanish, we should follow standard English alphabetizing rules.

A. You are right; there could be any number of foreign-language terms among the street names in San Diego, and unless all readers knew all the languages, the list would be useless. You can see that the city government of San Francisco puts Via Bufano under V. Another solution is to list such names in both locations, or to put in blind entries:

Via Hacienda. See Hacienda, Via

or

Hacienda, Via. See Via Hacienda

Q. I am taking a college course in copyediting. My professor and I were having a discussion and I would like to know who is correct. We were presented with this sentence for correction: Of the 400 members, about 300 were over 60 years old, but at least 50 were under the age of 30. I understand the rules stated in 9.2 and 9.4 would apply here and require all of the numbers to be spelled out. However, I chose to leave the 60 and 30 in numerical form in accordance with 9.7, “To avoid a thickly clustered group of spelled-out numbers, numerals may be used instead in exception to the general rule.” There are no guidelines that state when to apply the exception, nor are there examples to lead me to a definitive answer. Help please. How do you decide?

A. Your editing would make it easier for some readers to take in the numbers, while others would be distracted by a perceived inconsistency. That is a fundamental challenge for editors. You decide based on how consistent the text is to begin with, how much work it will be to carry out a change throughout a document, and how likely it is that you’ll end up introducing inconsistencies. You weigh the work and the dangers against what you think most readers will find helpful. There’s usually no “correct” winner; it’s a judgment call.

Q. In Chicago 16, 16.10, it says that “an entry that requires more than five or six locators (page or paragraph numbers) is usually broken up into subentries to spare readers unnecessary excursions.” (1) Does that mean five or does it mean six? I use your style manual in order not to make such decisions myself. (2) Do you have a similar criterion for the number of subentries that should be broken down into subsubs?

A. (1) For the general reader, “five or six” at CMOS 16.10 means “anytime you feel that the number of undifferentiated locators is becoming unhelpful.” For you, it means “five.”

(2) Yes; see answer (1).